17th meeting of the Network of Contact Parliamentarians to stop sexual violence against children and joint meeting with the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons “Sexual violence against refugee children”

Strasbourg , 

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Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Parliamentarians,

I am very grateful for your commitment to the One in Five Campaign. The importance of your work in raising awareness of sexual violence against children and in protecting European children through the implementation of the Lanzarote Convention cannot be overstated.

You have now contributed to the implementation of legal reforms and concrete measures in 30 countries, following their ratification of the Lanzarote Convention.

I therefore welcome PACE's motion for a recommendation on "Combating sexual violence against children: towards a successful conclusion of the One in Five Campaign", which calls for the extension of the campaign until the end of 2015 and the subsequent establishment of a European Day to fight sexual violence against children. I can assure you that you have my full support.

Last month's Dubrovnik Conference on the implementation of the Council of Europe Strategy on the Rights of the Child (2012-2015), stressed that it is crucial to maintain the focus on the fight against sexual violence against children, to continue to combat taboos and to engage all actors to offer greater protection to children, in particular to those living in vulnerable situations.

Refugee and internally displaced children, who are among the most vulnerable, do not enjoy the protection of their own governments and are particularly exposed to sexual violence. Young women and girls especially are at risk, but we know that young boys who are confined in detention centres or otherwise in refugee situations are also exposed.

The specific roundtable on sexual violence against children, which took place during the Dubrovnik Conference, confirmed that we are on the right track. It led to a specific recommendation concerning the situation of children in particularly vulnerable situations, including refugee children and other children who live in poverty and segregation. We urgently need more data on their exposure to sexual violence in Europe, in order to ensure that effective preventive and protective measures are put in place.

Access to justice is of crucial importance. We need to reach out to refugee children to educate them about their rights and tell them who they can turn to in case of violations.

We also need effective and readily available reporting mechanisms for refugee children. Ombudspersons for children can play a key role in this. In addition, independent monitoring mechanisms, in particular the CPT and the Red Cross, must continue to visit structures where refugee children are being held, in order to identify cases of sexual abuse and instigate preventive measures.

Let me also acknowledge the important work of the UNHCR not only on the ground in refugee camps, but also in providing guidelines on sexual and gender-based violence against refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons.

Dear friends,

Trafficking in human beings takes its most abhorrent form when it involves sexual violence against children. The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings takes a child-sensitive approach and, with the best interests of the child in mind, a number of its provisions specifically concern children.

The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) pays particular attention to the identification, assistance and protection measures for child victims of human trafficking.

The information collected by GRETA so far shows clear proof of children trafficked to and within Europe for sexual exploitation. And sometimes these children arrive as asylum seekers.

In order to be successful in identifying child victims of trafficking, States need to make concerted efforts involving a range of stakeholders. GRETA has stressed the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to identification, including outreach work, which also brings in social services and NGOs as service providers.

GRETA sees a clear need for a number of specific child-protection measures, such as dedicated shelters with trained staff, the appointment of legal guardians for unaccompanied children, the availability of legal assistance to children, and the allocation of residence permits in order to allow children to actually benefit from available assistance measures.

One of the most difficult issues to tackle relates to the so-called "disappearance" of children from institutions. For various reasons, they may leave the shelters at the first available opportunity and return to their traffickers. However, detaining them "in their own interest" would be a problematic response from a human rights perspective.

Difficulties often arise in establishing a longer-term solution for trafficked children. The Council of Europe Convention demands a specific risk assessment, taking into account the best interests of the child prior to any return decision. Where return is nevertheless taking place, guidance is desperately lacking on how to implement that return and on the standardised procedures of cross-border co-operation between child protection authorities.

Dear Parliamentarians,

Let me remind you of your role in giving a voice to these vulnerable children and to the professionals working with them. You are in a position to shape the normative framework and to remind governments of their obligations.

I congratulate you for having devoted this meeting to such an important issue.